Wednesday, December 31, 2008
at 1:12 AM
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
We celebrated our first Christmas outside the states this year. In a way we were really looking forward to it and at times we were dreading it knowing that we were guaranteed to feel homesick. We kept really busy over the last week and it turned out to be an awesome time for our family. We kicked off the week with Annikah's school Christmas party. Her new teacher from South Africa (that replaced me in November) planned a party for the kids complete with cake and some poor guy wearing a Santa (or as most ex-pats here say Father Christmas) suit in 90 degree heat. He arrived to give each child a gift and just as last year Annikah was completely horrified by him (as were about half the kids in her class). So even though Santa still sucks to Miss A she did enjoy her gift and kept saying "Mama, Santa bring that but me no like Santa." She was a bit conflicted; scary weird dude in a crazy get up brought me a sweet present, life is rough when you are 2.
"nope, I still think he is way sketchy. Save me Mama!"
I show off the picture frame Annikah made us
Anni gave all the helpers gifts
We also got to attend a local church service in English with Christmas carols a couple days before Christmas. This was a real treat and even though the church was crazy hot we enjoyed singing (even though the songs were mostly the British tune or version so my loud-off key self would start singing the wrong version with gusto). We also got to take a look at the organ after the service which was amazing as the church is a colonial remnant and reeks of history so it was amazing to explore the building a bit which I also got to do when looking for an appropriate place for Annikah to pee in the pitch black, ahhhh a story for another time.
no white Christmas but we did get to go swimming on Christmas day!!
On Christmas Eve and day we got to Skype with family and friends and even open gifts via the webcam. Of course, we wished we could have been together in person but the blessing of technology was awesome as it made the distance seem not as far. Annikah got way too many gifts from the generous packages we were sent (thanks so much everyone!) including her favorites: talking Elmo, play dough, and a pretty pony. She also enjoyed giving out candy canes on Christmas day in our neighborhood and wishing everyone a "Krismasi njema." We made a nice Christmas dinner and enjoyed some tastes of home, at least as close to home as we could make here. Of course we made our traditional birthday cake for Jesus although with all the interruptions; power cuts, people stopping over, and visiting others,etc. it took 3 days to complete and decorate. Annikah was very proud of her creation and enjoyed singing Happy Birthday to Jesus. She was sure to point out "Me make that cake for Jesus but Annikah eat that." True Christmas spirit :) The day after Christmas we had a team BBQ (they put squid and duck on the grill :) luckily there was also some beef) and gift exchange. We also got a chance to better know one another with slide shows and videos of our "previous lives." It was awesome to share more of our personal lives with our team mates here. Here are some pictures and a couple short videos of our Krismasi adventures. I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas celebrating the gifts we have that cannot be wrapped or placed under any tree!
Anni & her new pony or as she calls it farasi (Kiswahili for horse)
the men & the meat at our team BBQ
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I am learning more than anything else at the moment that most of my emotional and spiritual existence is governed by my perspective, by how I see the world around me, and by what I believe about what I take in. Especially since this particular corner of the world is vastly different than the one I am used to existing in.
Last week a friend here took my to visit a house of her "sister" (not sure if they are really blood related as everyone seems to say sister and brother very freely which as you can guess makes it very difficult to know who is related). Annikah and I were welcomed in to a tiny one room brick and mud home. The small space seemed almost oppressively hot and cramped to me and I immediately began to think "how could someone actually live here?" Three rope beds were placed strategically in the room so they just fit and there was one small table that held food, cooking utensils, some baby powder, and a few small bowls. The family cooked everything outside as most people do and she showed us around her kitchen area where she must spend countless hours sitting on a small stool cooking in the heat covered only by a thin straw roof. We then went on a tour of her small shamba (or garden) where she grows some veggies (mostly local things I have never heard of). We then went back and sat on a mat on the floor and talked; mostly they talked and asked me questions which I tried my best to respond with the Kiswahili I know. She offered me some fruit off a tree and some water from a dirty plastic jug in the corner. As I drank and said a prayer that the water would not make me sick I suddenly was struck with the arrogance in which I see the world. My first thought was that she was so poor, in need of pity, but compared to who? How often does Jesus talk of the poor in spirit versus the poor in terms of worldly goods? How often does he speak of the danger in loving things or worshipping money or possessions over Him and over loving others? And just how often do I get this totally wrong? I thought about how if I was home in Chicago and someone stopped by unexpectedly with friends would I have been as welcoming? Would I have had "more important things" to do? Would I have shared and freely offered out of my wealth as this woman was offering out of her comparative poverty? In some ways my life at home was so scheduled that I must have missed out on countless opportunities like this one. I never noticed or even missed them because the world was always spinning around me at the same speed. Here I have had to learn to just sit, to just listen, to be the one who knows nothing, and to be the learner more than the teacher. It is humbling, it is difficult, it is what I needed and He knew it.
After about an hour of visiting, picking veggies, and the kids running around together shoeless through the field we began to leave. Leaving is a process: you say goodbye to everyone individually, you wish peace on them and their families, and you thank them for their hospitality. The women also gathered some gifts to give me as I left, some tea leaves and veggies she grows. This gift was nothing I desired, nor even knew what to do with but it was so precious to me. My perspective shifted and it has on many things.
I no longer take for granted the immense and amazing opportunities for education I have had in my life. And although I cannot type a blog post without the aid of spell check to save my life I have been taught how to read and express my feelings through writing. And at my core I believe that however; at times irrational and governed by emotions my thoughts are, they deserve to be heard and that I, as a woman, have a voice. These are gifts that should be savoured, treasured. Some days I practice reading Kiswahili outside our house and when some of my neighbors overhear they listen intently and watch over my shoulder almost in awe of my ability to make sense of the words written on the page. Another experience changed my perspective on just how many things I have to be grateful for. A few weeks back we were going to be out all day ona day we expected the milk to be delieverd. We decided to leave our door open and ask Mama to place the milk in the fridge when it arrived (since if left out in the heat it usually goes bad). When we arrived home she announced that it had indeed arrived and that she placed it in the fridge. We unpacked and I decided I should boil the milk before we got ready for bed so I opened the fridge, but no milk, notta. I thought this was obviously bizarre and searched around a bit. I knew we had understood each other since the word for fridge is frige there was no room for a miscommunication. Finally, I noticed the worn water bottle full of milk peering at me from inside the oven. She thought the oven was the fridge. In that moment I realized she had never seen a fridge or a stove before and I was shocked, this could not be but in reality it was. But before I tell these stories that one could chalk up to the paternalistic and tragic "poor, simple African, & rich all knowing Westerner" mentality let me be clear that is not at all the story I tell.
Not at all.
If anything I have learned that many perceived needs I have in my life at times complicate my existence and compromise my joy rather than add to it. I "need" a fridge so when there is no power for days it eats away at me. So many days I get worn down by stuff that really means nothing, minor annoyances that are not why I was made, not why I am here, not what life is about. I also have learned so much about family, about appreciating the earth, about honesty, about selfless sharing and giving, about welcoming people from my neighbors and friends here. But if my perspective does not shift or open to encompass the new things I am learning I am the one who is truly poor.
I know that in part my perspective on life has always been to worry about what is next. It is almost as if worrying comforts me in some ways. Planning for the future is great, letting worry overtake your days eats away at your joy, there is a fine line. I could be worried about how we will ever save enough money for Annikah to have the same educational opportunities we did, I could worry about the health issues in living here, I could worry about friends and family going through tough times so far away, I could worry about how we can afford to live here, I could worry about what our future family will look like, I can worry that every thing I do is misunderstood culturally, I can worry that the plans for the school are traveling at a snail's pace or I can refuse to be bound by worry. Too often I chose to fret but I am learning that the solution to worrying is not to try not to worry but to seek first, it is matter of devotion. To what or who am I devoted? Do I really trust and know in my gut that He is always in control? And do I have the courage to live like I believe that everyday? It is a matter of actually seeing and I am seeing my life in new way, at least in small steps.
I am so grateful God brought me here to teach me how life is more than carving out a comfortable place for me and my family. There are so many people with whom I share this planet and although we live differently outwardly, we all have the same felt needs; acceptance, love, security. Yet we are all fallen and in process. All of creation is not perfected and He designed our world this way, it was not some cosmic mistake. I ran across this quote recently that I recorded in my journal and although I cannot remember where I read it today it spoke to me..
"When God made the earth, he could have finished it. But He didn't. He left it as raw material- to tease us, to tantalize us, to set us thinking and experimenting, and risking, and adventuring. And therein we find our supreme interest in living. He gave us the challenge of raw materials, not the satisfaction of perfect, finished things. He left music unsung and dramas unplayed. He left poetry undreamed, in order that men and women might become not bored but engaged in stimulating, exciting, creative activities that keep them thinking, working, experimenting and experiencing all the joys and durable satisfactions of achievement"
Do I accept the challenges in my life as raw material to carve out my purpose? Do I engage in artistic expression? Do I risk, adventure, and dare to grow? Do I allow Him to shape me for His purposes? Even the birth of Christ is a matter of perspective. For many trading the heavenly realms to come to the fallen earth as a helpless baby is obvious proof that Jesus was not divine.
But that depends of your perspective. Whether you believe only what you see as reality or if you acknowledge the impossible is possible with God. The earth did not recognize Him, even when he came. It was foretold this way, we humans missed it. I am so often reminded how often I expect God to work my way and how I should know better because He never does. And thank God He has a better way. Thank God the smallness of what I see is not all there is.
No matter how you define it the human dilemma exists. And God's definitive answer was a crisis pregnancy. A tiny baby born in a remote part of the world that would mean salvation for all. It was intensely and intimately personal. This is what Christmas is about for me this year.
I think it is amazing that when God looked down on His creation He decided that although the problems were immense the solution was not, that the core of the human paradox is that what really matters in this life is personal. The problems I face and the collective issues we face as a nation, a people, a human race; poverty, fear, hate, racism, greed, selfishness, cruelty, to name a few. How do I handle these issues? How do I look at the vastness of the unfinished business around me? These are problems that require a personal answer. No company can program selfishness or hate or evil out of man's hearts. A political leader cannot veto it. A country cannot require specifications and qualifications for love. It is only when God fills me and you with His love that we find the power to change, only when He gets involved in my mess that I can grow and my perspective is reborn.
Yes, it is about perspective. I see annoyances and He sees lessons is patience and opportunities to show kindness. I see wasted opportunity and He sees amazing potential. I see insurmountable problems and suffering and He sees that ability for redemption, I see hopelessness and He sees individuals He created and loves.
Loving God and loving people is at the core of life, everything else is negotiable.
Monday, December 22, 2008
(I had that skirt & top made here by a local fundi)
We were so excited so many friends came!
at 1:00 AM
Friday, December 19, 2008
fruit snacks in hand save the day!
at 10:23 PM
Thursday, December 18, 2008
After posting about Annikah's dear shoga leaving it was so sweet how many people asked how she is doing. Actually remarkable well considering they were inseparable for the past 3 months. She still has many days when she runs outside only to remember Mgoray is no longer here or she tells us "Mama, Papa, me want Mgoray come back." We continued to ask Jesus every night when we prayed to help her find new friends and He did! The very week her best friend left she had 3 girls stop over to play. We also got to go to the skuku with some kids from the neighborhood as well. One little girl has come over several times and Annikah loves when she hears her voice. She runs and finds her shoes and says "Mama, me need to play with new friend." A few nights ago when I was asking her at bedtime what she wanted to pray about she said "Mama, me want to say asante sana to Jesus for new friends." That was an easy prayer that I echoed in my heart. I am reminded as Christmas approaches that He cares so much about our humanness that he came to sacrifice, to love us in our weakness, and know what we feel. Today, we grateful for new friends around here.
at 5:21 AM
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The last night of the Eid festival we went with a family from our neighborhood. It was great to hang out with them for the night. After grabbing some festival food (read here more meat on a stick) and hanging out on our mat they wanted to look for toys at the numerous vendors (as a side note there is no Kiswahili word for toys, they just say "things of play"). Walking through row after row of plastic junk strung from wooden stakes we finally spotted him, in a pile of used toys on a table, barely visible to the untrained eye; Woody! Annikah had just watched Toy Story for the first time a few weeks back because it was on one of the bootleg "40 movies on one DVD" that we brought when we were in Nairobi and she loved it!!! Seriously, she never has really sat through any movie before but she loved Toy Story, she laughed out loud at the toys and their crazy antics and she teared up a bit when Woody and Buzz could not get home to Andy and the mama. It was hilarious and although we do not let her watch many movies I was secretly stoked because if I ever really need a "electronic babysitter" I now know I can call on Buzz and Woody to save the day, at least while it lasts (hey judge all you want). Ok, back to the story of Woody.
Jason was the first to spot him and soon after he did Miss Annikah started pointing and gleefully declaring "Woody, papa, that is Woody." He even had his hat, a marvel of used toy shopping as if you paid me 100 dollars I still could not find all the pieces to the various toys strewn about our house. We took a look at him and upon first glance in the dark he seemed to be a bit dirty, a little war torn but overall in good shape including the string that you pull in great working order and the best part was they only wanted 2,000 shillings for him (about $1.70). Annikah did not whine or fuss at all about getting him but only said "please papa" (do not think our girl does not have her moments but we have been working a lot on how we ask for things and understanding that sometimes the answer is no before the question even leaves her lips so we were glad she had such a great attitude). We could not pass it up and happily made Annikah's day by taking Woody home. On the car ride home Annikah said to me "Mama, hamna (none in Kiswahili) hand, oh no, Papa need to fix that" and once I took a detailed look I realized that Woody was indeed handless on one arm and missing four of his fingers on the other hand. So much for our keen observation skills! We explained that we could not fix it but that Woody was still fun to play with and Anni agreed after telling Woody "pole sana Woody (sorry for you Woody)." Upon arriving home I scrubbed Woody from head to toe and Papa fixed a slight problem with his batteries (he would not shut up).
Annikah and Woody have been inseparable for about a week now. She even got to watch Toy Story 2 with him this week and since the movie was about Woody's arm ripping we thought it was quite fitting that Annikah sat watching the story unfold clutching her battered but much loved Woody.
at 1:15 AM
at 12:25 AM
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Here are some examples of the resourcefulness I have spotted:
old cans are used to make kerosene lamps,